No visit to Gibraltar would be complete without a visit to its museum. The museum itself is a warren of small rooms and narrow passages to which you gain entry by paying £5 (2019). Poorly lit artifacts in varnished cabinets, more reminiscent of an 18th Century Victorian gentleman's collection in his private study, belie the importance of what is on view. It is a world apart from the modern museums you may have visited in various cities - and long may it remain so. The museum is as anachronistic as Gibraltar itself.
The museum has its roots in the military, as many institutions on Gibraltar do. In 1835 a group of army officers, part of a club called the Gibraltar Scientific Society that met in the Garrison Library, established a museum in rented accommodation. The museum became so important that the society changed its name to the Museum Society. In March 1848 the society was presented with the 'Gibraltar Skull' by the society's secretary, Lieutenant Edmund Flint. Only much later was it realised that this was the first discovered skull of a Neanderthal but by then that hominid strain had already been named for finds in the Neander valley in Germany.
In 1930 the collection was moved into its present home, what had been the Ordnance House on Bomb House Lane. Ironically and fortunately Ordnance House had been built above part of the Moorish Baths which had, until then, been used as a stable.
Some of the most fascinating exhibits originate in Gorham's Cave, since 2016 a World Heritage Site, home for many thousands of years to Neanderthals and only much later by modern man and later still a Phoenician shrine.
To the Phoenicians the Rock, the northern pillar of Herakles, was sacred ground. This is one reason it was never built upon in antiquity. The nearest Phoenician settlement was on the north side of the Bay of Gibraltar on a promontory of the Rio Guadarranque called Cerro de Prado, just upstream from Carteia, a later Cathaginian and then Roman settlement. Cerro de Prado was a small port at which goods were transhipped. Sailors would bring their boats to the beach on the east side of the Rock and make offerings within Gorhams Cave that they called the Temple of Herakles.
The shrine was in use between the 8th and 3rd centuries BC, first by Phoenicians and then by Carthaginians and later Romans. Offerings include ceramics, scarabs, beads, rings and scent bottles known as Amphoriskoi. The artifacts came from the land of Tartessos - the region surrounding Huelva, Corinth, Athens, Rhodes and Egypt.
Later periods, in particular the 18th and early 19th centuries and the 2nd World War are well represented. There is also an informative natural history section.
In the lower parts of the museum you can visit the Moorish Baths, remarkably well preserved considering the treatment meted out by the military, and see a reproduction of the 'Gibraltar Skull' in a cave like setting.
Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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